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Birding in Thailand with Peter Ericsson
Mae Wong National Park 11-13 February 2001
Most people in the West opt for the beach and bodies of water when plans for vacation and outings are made. Here in hot Bangkok, we prefer the highlands and the refreshing coolness of the mountains.
The group of smaller children, ages 5-13, was truly excited as the day of departure was at hand.
This was to be the first time in a tent for most of them.
I was well prepared as to what route to take and so the drive to Mae Wong Park some 400 km from Bangkok went without trouble. Along the way there are always birds to look out and the most outstanding ones during our drive were Bronze-winged Jacana, Black-naped Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Openbills and Red-wattled Lapwing. (More commonly seen are Mynas, Egrets and Doves)
The little town of Klang Lan has a market area and here is the first time I ever saw House Sparrows outnumber Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Perhaps Thailand is destined to have a major takeover of this species in the future?
It was midday when we arrived and so a dip in the cool waters of the rushing stream behind headquarters was a must. The very first bird was a splendid Black Baza perching in a tree no more then 30 meters away.
Did not have any problems identifying this bird! The mandatory Grey Wagtail was present, as well as Olive-backed Sunbird, Black-crested Bulbul and Inornate Warbler.
I checked out the logbook, which held a very impressive record of what had been seen on a resent expedition by the park officials to a far away lying mountain peak called MoKoJu. Some discoveries of species new to Thailand had been made such as Rusty-capped Fulvettas, sub-species of Green-tailed Sunbird and a whole range of northern montane birds.
Our destination, Chong Yen, is situated 1340 meters above sea level and a very nice place. Basically it is possible to birdwatch right at campground the whole time there. Lack of traffic and development, as opposed to Doi Inthanon, made this more of a retreat and the sense of 'being alone with God' was much stronger.
One word of caution though: Beware of a little devilish insect called 'Koon' in Thai. This mean character normally harasses larger mammals and implants it's little poison. I guess I must have looked like a good target to these creatures since I ended getting stung (or bitten?) causing severe itchiness. To avoid this it would be recommended to keep long-sleeved shirt on during the day. (I of course, always being hot, had to refresh myself with a cool shower after a long walk and this is when I was attacked). Anti-histamine tablets may be good to bring.
The park rangers here are very friendly and bird oriented. They have been assigned to keep a record of Rufous-necked Hornbills. They said one male had passed by the day before but that this time of year the females are already in their nests and so there would not be much chance of another sighting for a few days. Apparently the best time for this Hornbill is October/November. They were right. We never saw the Rufous-necked Hornbill but had to settle for Great Hornbill.
Following morning we went for a walk. Kids true to their nature wanted to walk the full length to the waterfalls some 8.5-kilometer away. Finally, I convinced them that halfway would be fine and that proved wise, as it is downward one way and upward the other, the road being a dead end road.
I had unsuccessfully searched for Common Rosefinches at Doi Inthanon last month but here they were in abundance. Such a nicely shaped and colored bird. Got some pics of it too.
The walk started out with a flock of another life bird; Striated Yuhinas. Easy as anything.
In a red flowering tree five species of Bulbuls were simultaneously present. Red-whiskered, Black-headed, Black-crested, Flavescent and Black Bulbul. Also Fairy Bluebird and Streaked Spiderhunter. In the background a flock of Grey Treepies noisily were moving about. Maroon Orioles were seen and heard regularly. White-necked Laughingthrush crossed the road. Burmese Shrike in a tree.
After having turned around half way I let the children 'loose' and they set off for their race back to campground. Poor me, who now could stroll in my own pace and enjoy the birds as they came!
A couple of bird waves were terrific or how about a midday group of Yellow-whiskered Tit, Striated Yuhinna, Silver-eared Mesia, White-browed Piculet etc? More birds inside here were Hill blue Flycatcher, Mountain Bulbuls, White-throated Fantail, Grey-throated Babbler, Dark-necked Tailorbird and Jungle Fowl etc.
After a nice meal and the above-mentioned shower I decided to scout out the mountaintop behind rangers quarters. A Chestnut-headed Bee-eater flew out of its burrow. Silver-eared Mesias kept scurring around.
Black-throated Sunbird shimmered with blue head, maroon mantle and blue tail. A Blue-bearded Bee-eater perched in a tree. Orange-bellied Leafbird sang from a treetop. The way up is STEEP. Once up though I was rewarded with true tranquility and views worthy to be absorbed. A lone White-browed Shrike-Babbler kept singing away (can be heard most throughout the day and easy to find). A Great Barbet was within 10 meters sight. I went down and told the kids where I had been and no sooner did I find myself going back up with little legs behind me.
This time a Large Cuckoo-Shrike, Black-headed Sibia, Slender-billed Orioles, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker and Golden-throated Barbet was the reward.
Later after having spent some time observing a pair of White-browed
Scimitar-Babblers my attention was drawn to a pair of Coral-billed
Scimitar-Babblers right next to the campground. Lifer number 3.
I slept well that night having been challenged by the kids to a game of tug-of war before dinner.
We were alone at campground and a persistent Bay Owl could be heard for hours on. Other Owls heard was Collared and Mountain Scops Owl.
Next morning a rare Striated Bulbul came through. Pin-tailed Pigeon flew by. Lifer number 4. A flock of Grey-chinned Minivets added color, all the while Verditer Flycatcher sang away. Lesser Yellownape was nesting in a dead tree by campground. Lots of Warblers and Oriental White-eyes. Strangely enough many of them lack the grey belly they normally have, instead they are uniform yellow. Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes were there but not nearly as confiding as the ones at the Summit of DI.
There were lots of sounds coming our way from deep down in the valley. Some distinguishable, some not.
There were of course more birds seen. Like the friendly pair of Flavescent Bulbuls who took a liking to our van window. The pumping of the Olive-backed Pipit's tail and the little Speckled Piculet in the woods. The Drongos with their many calls. The fast flying Swallows and Swifts in the air. The booming call of Mountain Imperial Pigeon. The ever sounding Blue-throated Barbet etc.
What stood out to me was the abundance of birds and the many good looks we had. A scoop would come in handy here as well.
On our way home we stopped for another dip in the waters below and this time a Blue Magpie bade us farewell. Pied Stonechat kept perching in the tall grass, while the call of Lineated Barbet kept ringing in our ears.
Only two nights and many hours driving but still so refreshing, invigorating and fulfilling. Only my body took a toll, insect bitten and sore legs. Still a worthy price to pay.
[See Phil Benstead's report about birding at Mae Wong in the OrientalBirding group: "It is worth spending an evening at the riverside swimming spot at the HQ on your way in or out of the Park as a Crested Kingfisher flies past here just after dawn and just before dusk. One of the few good stakeouts for this species in Thailand."]
Mae Ping and Doi Inthanon National Park, Thailand
19-24 January 2001
This year we wanted to make sure we didn't miss the real cold weather so often found on the mountains in the North. As it turned out it were to be our warmest year so far, with a low of only 10º Celsius at the summit of Doi Inthanon. This type of weather brings on heavy fog at the highest peak and makes it hard to birdwatch there. Nevertheless, strong winds and lush vegetation along with bird sounds and 'frozen and funny dressed' Thai tourists made for a fun experience. The military personnel based here set up a little table with coffee and refreshments outside their gate and it added a little convenience to the area.
Having lived in Thailand for soon 20 years I still feel at ease being a foreigner but up here is one of the few times I wish I were a Thai national. Why? Inside the radar station there is a little intriguing fellow by the name of Blue-fronted Redstart. It has reserved its presence to those who make it inside, and since foreigners are not allowed inside a military base, I humbly had to remain on the outside.
Several migrants were not present this time, but I still managed to add a new bird: a female Slaty Blue Flycatcher that was in the low shrub next to the car park. (For more details of other birds around the summit, see previous year's report).
Anyway, back to the beginning. The makeup of the team this year was different. The more motivated birdwatching youth from earlier years had moved on, and I was challenged with less proclaimed nature lovers. Just leaving the big city of Bangkok and all its glitter was an achievement in itself. Exposure to Creation, simple living (tents) and an awareness of culturally diverse life styles (hill tribes etc.) enriched the mind of the youth and hopefully deepened their perspective on life.
Mae Ping Park
Someone had kindly pointed out that there is an alternative to the scorched forest of the lower hills of Doi Inthanon. Although we did not find White-rumped Falconets and Black-backed Forktails, what we did see sure made up for any misses. This park is located only a 2-hour drive from the entrance gate to Doi Inthanon. Coming from Bangkok, take a left at the town of Thoen and follow road 106. At the district of Li, take a left onto road 1087 (clearly marked road signs exist) and go on for another 20 kilometers. It took us 6 hours to drive from Bangkok.
The main purpose for visiting this park was to see Black-headed Woodpecker, a much wanted bird for me. After having checked in (a checklist of the park is available at visitor center), we decided to drive to the campground at Tong Gik, 14 kilometers away. Three km from the headquarters a dirt road to Tong Gik takes off to the left. The road is in the middle of a beautiful open, dry dipterocarp forest with stands of teak, rosewood and more.
It didn't take more then 3 minutes of driving, and our first pair of Black-headed Woodpeckers was in view. Simply a gorgeous bird. Easy to spot and follow with the binoculars. It appears to like middle storey tree trunks, which makes it easy to detect. Its distinctive call also helps to identify the bird.
We were all alone at the campground and had a nice evening with pleasant temperatures, in spite it being no more then 500 meters above sea level. At the campground there is a huge area being allowed to regenerate after years of forest dwellers having used the land. Here we had excellent views of Rufous-winged Buzzard and Collared Falconets while Chinese Francolin was calling with its harsh call. Along the stream a pair of Blue Throats (Flycatchers) were taking a bath while White-crested Laughingthrushes were roaming in the undergrowth.
Next morning, a pair of Great Slaty Woodpeckers called from a dead tree, spurring us on for more discoveries along the dirt road. Several times did we encounter the Black-headed Woodpeckers in smaller groups of up to four individuals. We also saw the ever-colorful Blue Magpie and Hooded Oriole. A small flock of Chestnut Buntings was feeding on the ground. Here is a list of other birds we saw. Most of these we did not encounter at Doi Inthanon because we did not spend time at lowlands there.
We spend the morning at the park and then started our journey to DI.
I warmly recommend this park as a prime sample of a fine healthy open, dry dipterocarp forest.
We had another surprise waiting for us at the park. The Queen was due for her annual visit and so campground was to be closed for 3 nights. The campground at Mae Baan waterfall was under reconstruction, with heavy trucks taking a drastic toll on the already damaged road.
We decided to leave the park after one night but on our way down at km 26 saw a sign saying 'Birds watching' (who watches who here?), Eco camp. We found out that some grassroots movement had set up a campground on ground not within the National Park boundaries in order to add extra income to some of the hill tribe people in the area. This camp offers nice, simple but clean bungalows as well as tents and campground next to a stream.
We then stayed there for the remainder of our time. In the stream, a female Plumbeous Redstart was feeding daily while an occasional Slaty-backed Forktail would pass by. The dried-out rice fields held Rufescent Prinias, Pied and Grey Bushchat, while Grey-faced Buzzard soared over the adjoining forest.
We also took a little walk to a village nearby and in a large fruiting/flowering tree saw Orange-bellied Leafbird, Blue-winged Leafbird, Plain Flowerpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Ashy Drongo, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and a large flock of Long-tailed Minivets.
As usual, birding was the best along the road by km 37. Big flocks of Spectacled Barwings were a treat. Silver-eared Mesias in the open. Chestnut-throated Shrike-Babbler was a new bird for me. Mountain Tailorbird, Chestnut-capped Warbler and lots of Rufous-winged and Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, Speckled Piculet etc.
Inside the jeep track while waiting for Slaty-bellied Tesia to appear, a Pygmy-Wren Babbler showed up instead for full views. Then the Tesia hopped out of the brush and kindly warmed our hearts. Later on, Eye-browed Wren-Babbler was another life bird even though not very well seen. Shy fellow. Other good birds in here were Large Niltava, Eye-browed Thrush, Eye-browed Tit (lifer), Black-eared Shrike-Babbler, Green Magpies, Yellow-bellied Fantail and Rufous-backed Sibias.
A Brown-Hawk Owl gave full views in pine stands on the way to Mae Baan waterfall.
We went for a dip in the stream by lower grounds around km 10 and also to check out birdlife at dawn down there. In one hour we saw one single bird. A Green Magpie.
Watchirathan waterfall at km 14 held River Chat and male Plumbeous Redstart. Always a treat.
Surprise of the trip. While watching birds along the road, a couple of American birdwatchers that we had earlier briefly encountered in the woods approached us. The woman handed me a generous donation for our work and said, “My brother told me what you do here in Thailand. He has read your things on the Internet and we wanted to help. Perhaps this will help you to stay on another day or two.” I most say I was deeply impressed by their kindness. Especially in the light of us not having touched on the subject of our Christian volunteer work in our previous brief encounter. Thank you Christine!
One very special bird at DI is the Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush. This time we saw both the male and the female on different occasions but at the same place. Closer to the summit there are two huge pagodas. A little farther up there is a parking lot with a nature trail. (Do not enter this trail without permission and certainly refrain from picking any plants or flowers. The local guard is very adamant and the trail requires permission from headquarters as well as a guide to come along.) About 100-200 meters past this parking lot on the right hand side there is a larger dead tree. In the early morning, the Thrush likes to perch there.
All in all, we saw close to a 100 species at DI. If anyone wants a complete list just let me know.